The government has said two new contracts for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchises will bring a £1.2 billion boost to rail travel in the region.
The Northern franchise goes to Arriva Rail North Limited while the TransPennine Express franchise will continue to be run by First TransPennine Express Limited.
In February transport bosses announced that part of the deal would be to scrap slow and outdated 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains.
In their place are promised 500 brand-new modern carriages and more space on trains into Manchester and Liverpool at peak times.
In response Councillor Iain Lindley, who represents Walkden South, said: “Commuters across the city will welcome the significant improvements to be made in the new Northern rail franchise, especially the doubling of services through Walkden, which draw a stark contrast with the ongoing chaos of the Council’s misguided busway project.
“Passengers at Walkden station will benefit from an increased peak-time service, a doubled off-peak service, and a Sunday service that starts earlier, runs more frequency and finishes much later.
“Residents near Swinton and Moorside stations will also benefit from the improved service along the line.
“Both Salford Crescent and Salford Central stations will see an increased number of services and a wider variety of destinations. The bid document also indicated that Sunday services will return to Patricroft.
“We are yet to see the new stopping patterns but rail users at Eccles and Irlam have both made compelling cases for an increased frequency of service.”
Alongside a commitment to £55 million of much-needed investment in stations, free Wi-Fi will be provided TransPennine Express services and stations by July 2018 and on all Northern services and 36 stations by December 2019.
Both will be expected to meet targets to improve customer satisfaction and reduce cancellations as well as introducing automatic Delay Repay compensation for passengers who buy season and advance-purchase tickets online.
The franchises will be jointly managed from Leeds by the Department for Transport and Rail North Limited – which represents 29 local authorities across the north.
Background documents revealed good news for commuters from Walkden station: from 2017 the number of services to Walkden is set to double, with four trains per hour in the peak and daytime periods, and an improved evening service.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We promised passengers in the north west a world class rail service that would make the Northern Powerhouse a reality – and I’m delighted that we have found two operators that will deliver exactly that. This deal, and the joint management of the franchises, will bring the Northern Powerhouse to life.
Sir Richard Leese, head of Manchester council and chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities said the announcement was “another crucial move towards devolution for the North”.
What will happen on the Northern franchise?
Arriva Rail North Limited will run the Northern franchise – which is the second largest in the UK from April 2016 until March 2025. The operator will oversee the complete removal of the outdated and unpopular Pacers by the end of 2019, introduce more than 2,000 extra services each week, and will invest £400 million in 281 brand new air-conditioned carriages to be rolled out across the north.
In the north west, specific improvements on the Northern network include:
• Longer trains and more frequent services providing space for nearly 13,000 more passengers – around 26% more capacity – into Manchester and Liverpool during the morning rush hour; plus longer, newer trains serving Bolton
• a new high-quality ‘Northern Connect’ service, meaning new or refurbished trains on longer-distance services, faster journeys and stations staffed daily with catering services and free Wi-Fi at each one. As well as serving Liverpool and Manchester, this network will also serve other destinations including Blackpool North, Lancaster, Barrow, Chester, Windermere, Huyton, Carlisle and Warrington
• Brand new electric trains on services from Manchester to Preston and Blackpool once electrification is complete
• New late evening services on the Todmorden Curve from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn via Burnley and Accrington
• More services into Manchester from Liverpool, Wigan, Blackburn, Chester, Hazel Grove and Macclesfield; into Manchester Airport from central Manchester, Liverpool and Warrington Central; and a new direct service from Chester to Leeds
• More services and space on the Cumbrian Coast line, with timetable improvements to benefit workers at Sellafield and Whitehaven
• improved ticketing, including mobile and print-at-home tickets, and discounted fares for jobseekers
Chris Burchell, Managing Director of Arriva’s UK Trains division, said: “We are proud to be given the opportunity to transform rail travel for passengers in the north of England and to work closely with our partners to connect towns, cities and communities like never before.
“We will be investing more than £1billion to deliver a step-change in quality for customers and dramatically improving services, stations, information and ticketing. Our aim is to be the communities’ local railway and to leave a positive lasting legacy for the north of England.”
What about First TransPennine?
First Trans Pennine Express Limited will operate services on the TransPennine Express franchise – which runs intercity services across the region and into Scotland – from April 2016 until March 2023.
“They will bring in 220 new carriages, equivalent to 44 trains, providing fast 125mph services across the network, as well as introducing in the north west:
• nearly 4,000 more seats on Liverpool and Manchester services – an overall increase of 59% – during the morning peak
• a new, direct Liverpool to Glasgow service from December 2018 with new electric trains and additional services from Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh from December 2017
• more trains from Manchester to Hull, Middlesbrough and Liverpool, with faster, more regular services from Liverpool to Manchester and Leeds, plus a new direct link from Manchester Airport to Newcastle
• discounted advance fares for 16 to 18-year-olds and jobseekers
Tim O’Toole, chief executive of FirstGroup, said: “Our new TransPennine Express franchise will deliver faster and more frequent intercity train services between the north’s major towns and cities and we are excited to help the government achieve its vision for a Northern Powerhouse.
Finally the government will receive £400 million in premiums from First Trans Pennine Express Limited over the life of the franchise, while the amount of annual subsidy the government pays for the Northern franchise will be reduced by £140 million by the end of the nine-year contract.
Main image: A packed Pacer by Friends of Walkden Station